I have recently received a number of emails from constituents regarding changes to university staff pensions. I have long believed that decent pay and working conditions are vital for those who work in education, and that all university staff should have access to a secure pension in future.
I am therefore concerned about plans by Universities UK (UUK) to close the defined benefit portion of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) and replace it with a defined contribution scheme.
These proposals would see employers and staff pay an extra £500 million a year more from the sector’s payroll and retirement income would depend on returns from money invested in the stock market. Analysis by the actuarial consultancy First Actuarial has shown that a lecturer starting work today could be £208,000 worse off over the course of their retirement as a result of the changes.
I fear this would significantly reduce the security of retirement income for academic staff in many UK universities and that further erosion of USS benefits could reduce their ability to attract and retain staff in an increasingly competitive sector, making careers in these institutions less attractive.
At the 2017 General Election, I stood on a manifesto pledging to restore confidence in the workplace pension system and put people, rather than profit, at its centre, by enabling the development of large and efficient pension funds – meaning more cash for scheme members and lower costs for employers.
As rightfully stated by our Shadow Education Secretary, Angela Rayner, “the USS is the largest private pension scheme in the UK and it is vital to our economy as well as to the education sector that it continues to enjoy the confidence of its current members and their employers”.
Therefore, although the Government have dismissed intervening (viewing universities as autonomous institutions responsible for their own pension provision) I believe that it should step in to review the situation and urge Universities UK to work with University and College Union to find a better solution.
I can assure that I will follow this issue closely, keeping my website updated on any developments.